This is what a seven metre Anaconda looks like
We had been in and out of the jungle for a few days, searching for anacondas.
That particular day, we’d taken a boat down the Yacuma river and stopped three quarters of the way down. Donning gumboots and masses of insect repellent, we stepped off the boat and into the unforgiving heat of the amazon swamp. We trudged through thick mud for over an hour before one of the group spotted something that wasn’t a log, or a heat induced mirage. A small, brown head, brilliantly camouflaged, was just visible through the green leaves that covered the waters surface. Peering through binoculars, our guide confirmed it was the fake anaconda (real anacondas can be hard to find) and we stayed to watch it for a while. After some time it slithered away, the tail of its two metre length disappearing into the jungle. Tired and happy, we made our way back to the boat to began the journey down the river, and onwards into town.
Back in Santa Rosa, we sat around a small kitchen table eating a home cooked lunch. In true backpacker style, I speared a piece of broccoli as if it would disappear like the animals we’d been sighting for days now. Over the meal, our guide entertained us with stories of things he’d seen in the amazon. Halfway through the time he saw a Jaguar, his phone rang and he left the story hanging to pick up. Upon hearing the callers news, he stood up so fast his chair scraped across the concrete floor. His eyes swept the table.
“Go with the driver. Now”.
Looking down at our half eaten lunch, we dropped our forks, pushed back our chairs and ran outside. The Jeep was moving before all the doors had closed. We drove around town slowly, looking down streets, cruising past worn, run down houses, searching up deserted driveways. Finally our driver shook his head.
We were still looking for anacondas.
As our driver was turning the Jeep around, another guide on the same mission drove past us. Back in the game, we followed him a little further down the road. Pulling up to a small house, we could see a few men gathered outside. We got out of the car not quite sure what we were heading into. After gingerly stepping over a barb wire fence, we walked down the side of the house. Some of the men motioned for us to come closer. We stepped forward with caution. The men were huddled shoulder to shoulder, circled around a bush close to the side of the house. Peering through the foliage and following their pointed direction, I saw a thick, square shaped head nestled on the ground. It was obscured by dirt and leaves, but I could see its eyes were closed. It was so still I wasn’t sure if it was alive. It’s long body curved out from the other side of the bush. A grossly expanded belly, to large to hide in the shrub, lay in full sight. It’s body continued for some length before finally tapering off into a tail thicker than some of the tree roots we’d stumbled across in the jungle.
More locals started to appear. Samsung’s and camcorders were removed from pockets and set to record. One man used his machete to clear away the bush. It took five more men to drag the anacondas thick, fat body out from where it lay. As they pulled it underneath the barb wire fence, its body unfurled to reveal its full seven metre length. It was a shocking sight and one I don’t think I’ll ever forget. Up close it was thick, almost leathery, a muscle covered in scales. After some discussion and a considered approach worthy of such a creature, the men began to coil the anaconda up. Slowly, they lifted one piece of its body at a time and placed it closer to the section before, repeating the process until its giant frame was compacted down. It barely moved itself during the whole process, except for one moment when it lifted its head. The men dropped it fast. The crowd that had gathered gasped and stepped back. It put its head back down. Everyone stepped forward again, though not quite as close. The men returned to the task of transforming it into a size manageable for anaconda transportation. It took some time. At one point, a stray dog trotted up for a sniff. It must of realised what the men were up against. Letting out a whimpered cry, it ran away with its tail curled between his legs. When the men were finished, they carefully secured the anaconda with rope.
Judging from the grotesque shape of its belly, the local men deduced the anaconda had eaten a cayman. It can take an anaconda two months to digest such a feast. This one had chosen the spot next to the house to rest and give new meaning to the term food coma. The picture was taken after most of the kids had come running to see what was happening quite literally in their back yard. If you look closely you can make out the cayman sized shape in its midsection.
Soon after, a rambling tractor backed up to the house. The men worked together to lift up and heave the anacondas dead weight body into the back. With its cargo secured, the tractor pulled back out onto the road and set off towards the jungle in a slow, bumbling acceleration. We watched it leave, taking the anaconda to be returned to the depths of the Bolivian jungle.
While all this was going on our guide sat back at the house. Norman has lived and worked in the amazon for most of his life and has never seen a seven metre anaconda. He sat calmly finishing his lunch, sure we were out sighting the the usual two or three metre one. Driving back to Rurrenabaque he said we had the best luck of any group he’d taken to the Jungle. It was not the first time a guide in South America had said this to us, but it was only the second time we believed it. The first time was on the Galápagos Islands, but that’s another story.